Letters of Recommendation:
By now you probably have some idea of whether you want to pursue a career in a non-academic field, teaching high school, or somewhere in higher education. Whatever you're thinking about doing after graduation, chances are, you'll need some letters of recommendation. To avoid nasty surprises, ask only those professors to write for you who know and like what you do. Ask, but do not assume that a professor will write for you. When you make your request, bring with you representative papers and exams to help reacquaint the professor with the quality of your work, and a completed Request for Recommendation form available in the English office. If the professor seems reluctant or urges you to think of someone else who might know your work better, run, don't walk, to the nearest exit! This means that you will be unlikely to get a good recommendation from this particular professor. If he or she agrees to write for you, present your professor with detailed instructions as to what you're applying for, to whom the letters are to be sent, and the precise deadlines. Be sure you are properly thankful to the cooperative professor who has been willing to help you.
As with all requests made to human beings, it's a good idea to follow up after you make your request and before the deadline. You can do this by calling or e-mailing. Candygrams work, too.
Careers For Which You Need No Further Education
You have chosen to study English, presumably, because it interests you. You should enjoy the course work and the atmosphere. But as they reach upper classmen status, many English majors become concerned about the "marketability" of the major after graduation. You may have wondered what an education in English will get you in the real world (as Eliza Doolittle asks in Shaw's Pygmalion, "What have you left me suited for?"). Rest assured that an education in English will leave you equipped with many important skills which can actually give you an advantage in the job market. It is also important to remember that while some career fields (like nursing, for instance) may require a corresponding college major, most jobs do not directly correspond to a specific degree. Many famous and important people with English degrees are now gainfully employed in a variety of fields, ranging from Astronaut Sally Ride to Michael Eisner, CEO of the Disney Company. Have a look at the English department's Hall of Fame page. The truth is, your choice of a college major does not limit you to a particular type of work. Your own aptitudes and desires have much more to do with your future success in a career than your college major.
Remember, as an English major, you--
* possess excellent research skills. Having used the resources in any library, you are especially qualified to find almost any information you may need for any job. Further, you are able to evaluate the quality of the information and sources, process this information, and organize it into clear evidence to support your ideas. Basically, you can distinguish between valuable information and refuse, between someone's opinion and fact, between a reliable and an unreliable source. The truth is out there, and you can find it. You are able to use the information you find to defend your point of view, and to document your sources.
* have learned to work both in groups and independently on a variety of projects.
* understand differing points of view. You are aware that not everyone holds your opinion, and that alternative interpretations to problems can lead to a variety of solutions. Through your studies, you have learned to think critically and approach problems creatively.
* are able to empathize with persons different from you. Through your readings, you have sympathized with a variety of characters, most of whom are vastly different from you, allowing you to think as someone else for a while. This makes you uniquely qualified to deal with all sorts of people from all walks of life.
* have learned to communicate well in a variety of forms. If you are successful in your studies, you may be assured that as an English major, you can write well enough for any job. You have also prepared and given oral presentations.
* can handle deadlines. (You know what this means.)
Pull this list out of your pocket at job interviews when asked, "What do you have to offer this company?"
Choosing a Career
Researching various career options is an interesting and sometimes exciting process. Many resources are available to you over the internet. If you have absolutely no ideas about career possibilities, you may want to look through some of the books available from the instructor of English 200 or from the Career Planning and Placement Center regarding possible careers for English majors.
The library has put together a fabulous site to help students in their career development projects. The only problem is that the site is a little difficult to find. It is located on the library's homepage, under "Subject Guides," which is under "Internet Resources." Then click on "Career Resources" (or just click the link here). This site provides links to many outside sites which can help you choose and research a career. Be sure to look into the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the government publication detailing all the major information on almost any career you can think of. Here you'll find the statistics on how many people are currently employed in a specific career, what those in the field expect to earn, how many new people are hired to do this job every year, etc.
Another great resource is The Princeton Review's site. To research a career you will need to log in with an e-mail address and choose a password, but once you get in, you can find some amazing information about almost any career you choose, including "a-day-in-the-life-of-a-whatever" and salary information. This site is a lot of fun, so plan to spend some time there.
Getting a Job
Once you've narrowed your choices down by researching the various careers open to someone with your background and interests, it's time to go to CSUB's Career Planning and Placement Center (CPP), located in the Academic Administration Building, Room 104. They offer career counseling and resume building tips as well as placement file service. Your placement file is a permanent home for your biographical information and letters of recommendation which CPP can duplicate and send to prospective employers at any time. An active placement file at CPP also allows you to participate in the on-campus interviews which the CPP schedules each quarter. Perhaps most importantly, CPP has binders and binders and binders of current full-time job openings which you can peruse at your leisure during their office hours (8-5 M-F).
Teaching in the Public Schools
Teaching in the California public schools requires that you obtain a California Teaching Credential. If you have been following the ETPP, upon your graduation you should be eligible to enter the Secondary Education Program for the Credential Program administered through the School of Education (you can access their site through the "undergraduate" section of CSUB's homepage). You'll want to meet with the School of Education to register for an orientation meeting which must be attended the quarter prior to starting the program. At the orientation meeting, you will receive the application packet for the credential program.
Other Careers for Which You Need an Advanced Degree
There are many other careers for which an English degree is a wonderful proving ground, as long as you wish to extend your education in graduate school. Some of the most common directions for those holding English degrees are:
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Graduate schools in the United States normally offer two kinds of post-graduate degrees: the M.A. (Master's) and the Ph.D. (the Doctorate). The Master's degree is usually earned with about two years of course work, which culminates in either a written exam or a comprehensive research project called a thesis, or both. The Doctorate degree is usually granted after two or three additional years of course work following the completion of the Master's, plus a thesis, that might be several hundred pages long. A Ph.D. often takes six or seven years to earn: usually four or five years to do the course work and to write the thesis after two years spent earning the Master's. Some graduate programs offer only the Master's; some Ph.D. programs don't offer a separate Masters but make it part of the Ph.D. requirements.
A Word About Teaching in Higher Education
Because of a number of complex factors--including the economy world-wide, changing attitudes toward the study of the humanities, and changes in school structures--the job market for teaching at the college and university levels is grim and is likely to stay that way for some years. Currently, no more than about 50% of those who complete a Ph.D. find a job in teaching at the higher educational levels. For example, according to the Modern Language Association, which is the main professional organization for the study of English and American literature, in 1998 there were 1,076 doctorates granted by United States universities. Also in 1999, a total of 899 jobs for the teaching of English and American literature were advertised in the MLA Job Information List, the major source of employment news. This number represented a significant increase from previous years (in 1997 there were 694 jobs), which is good news. But of 899 jobs, only 518 were "definite, tenure-track assistant professor positions" (MLA Newsletter, Spring 2000, 2). This means the rest were advertised pending administrative approval, or were temporary one- or two-year positions, or were uncertain in other ways. Now consider that every year for many, many years, there are lots of Ph.D.s who did not get jobs the year they received their doctorate, and you have many people -- hundreds -- competing for the same jobs. It is not unheard of for a school to receive four or five hundred applications for one advertised job.
Many schools have responded to this unfortunate situation by employing part-time or full-time lecturers. This is good in many ways, but bad in others. A school that is having budgetary problems can hire a lecturer for much less money than it could a full-time tenure-track faculty member. These contracts are short-term, making it possible for the school to decide year by year how it will meet its budget. Job candidates who did not succeed in finding a permanent job get some work and can stay (barely) in the profession. But this arrangement is potentially exploitative, since lecturers have little job security and are often dividing their week between several similar part-time jobs, which makes it just that much harder to land a permanent job.
Therefore, if you are absolutely committed to going on to graduate school, be prepared to spend a number of years (and quite a lot of money) without any firm prospects of a job in teaching. This is not to say that a Ph.D. isn't great preparation for lots of other jobs such as those in publishing, editing, law, etc., but you may need to think creatively before you find employment.
In recognition of the serious job crisis in academics, many Ph.D. programs have reduced the size of their classes. This makes it that much harder to get into a good program, or any program at all. There may be several hundred applications for only a few places. This doesn't mean that you won't succeed in entering the graduate school of your choice or that you won't get a job when you finish. But you wouldn't be a smart person if you didn't understand the odds, right?
A Quick Word About Teaching in Community Colleges
Stopping after a Master's degree used to be a good career move if a person wanted a job in community college since the minimum requirement for a job in a community college is usually just a Master's degree. Now that the market is clogged with Ph.D.'s who for whatever reason did not get jobs at four year institutions, Ph.D.'s are becoming increasingly necessary to compete for full-time tenure-track positions at the best community colleges. This does not mean that you WON'T get a job at a community college with a Master's degree only; it just means that your competition could be pretty tough, even with the requisite degree.
Selecting a Graduate School
When investigating a graduate program, consider first the type of program they offer. Some grad programs offer only a Master's degree. Others offer both Master's and Ph.D. programs. Some Ph.D. programs require that you have a Master's in hand before going for the Ph.D., while some will let you work through one right into the other. Some Ph.D. programs don't even require a Master's. Some schools that offer both won't let you stop at a Master's if you said you wanted a Ph.D. Shop around.
Assess a school's reputation by consulting the guides to graduate schools available in the library and the CPP office, or check out schools online, either individually or through sites which rank schools. U.S. News and World Report maintains an interesting site where you can search for a school based on criteria of your choice. Another great site, and more humorous, is the previously mentioned Princeton Review's site. You can look up just about any school by any criteria.
Make your decision on the basis of many factors, including overall ranking (this grad school as compared to other, similar programs), student-to-professor ratios, and fellowship money available to graduate students, etc. You'll want to talk with people who are actually involved in the programs you're interested in. A graduate secretary or application contact should be able to put you in touch with graduate students who can talk with you about their experiences.
Applying to Graduate School
After you've made your selection of possible schools, apply to several. This is costly and time-consuming, but well worth it, since you'll increase your chances of being accepted somewhere, even if it's not at your first choice. Carefully plan for all the various deadlines involved. Your application will need letters of recommendation; plan to ask for these well in advance of the due date. (See the discussion in a related section about how to ask for letters.) You may also need to apply for financial aid, both from the school itself and from any federal or state agencies. Some of these deadlines may be almost a year in advance of your wanting to start school (I'm not kidding), so get started early on requesting information packets and plotting out your various deadlines.
You'll also need good scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and you'll want to take this well in advance of your application deadline. For admission to a program in English and American literature, you'll need to take both the general test, which has three parts (language, mathematics, and analytical reasoning), and the subject test for Literature in English. (Each major discipline has a separate subject test; don't sign up for one in another subject by accident.) Most programs in English and American literature will be interested primarily in your scores from the first part of the general test and the subject test, but if you can do well on all four parts, it wouldn't hurt.
The Education Supersite from Peterson's is a very informative website devoted to higher education, including an indispensable section on the GRE. Here you'll find information on applying for the GRE, where and when to take the GRE, how to study for the GRE, and sample test questions from--you guessed it--the GRE. Plan to make full use of this sight.
Succeeding in Graduate School
The aforementioned Peterson's site also contains links to a variety of articles which discuss in detail many aspects of the graduate school experience, including anxiety about applying, choosing, and fitting in to a graduate program-- everything except what to eat and who to date. We recommend reading these articles (which are updated often by Peterson's) and making use of the advice provided.
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